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Machine Shop Rates – What’s the Average Hourly Rate

If you want win in this competitive market, you have to be on top of your game by being efficient. Depending on what kind of jobs you’re running, you want to run the best equipment and tools for it, as well as utilizing them properly.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you need to buy the most expensive machine. As a general rule, the more complex the part, the more you’ll have to spend on precision equipment. On the flip side, you can charge more because it takes more time and money to run the job.

What Machines Are In The Shop?

There are a lot of factors that can determine the hourly rate of a shop. Shops that can utilize bigger are more powerful machines will generally charge more because the overhead costs are higher, and they can do more than just a small job shop with lesser machines.

What Kind of Shop Is It?

Comparing hourly rates of job shops and production shops can vary greatly. Running production is usually a larger shop with big machines that can run dozens or even hundreds of parts at a time. Efficiency is very important, and rates will often be higher. However, the orders can be started and finished in a fraction of time.

Smaller job shops that do more prototype parts and small batches are usually a little cheaper. However, the cost per part can be quite a bit higher because set-up time is expensive. The more parts you run, the lower the cost-per-part will be.

Quality or Quantity?

Just because a shop has bigger and more powerful CNC machines does not mean it is a better shop. A small 3 man shop can be head and shoulders above a 20,000 square foot machining shop as far as quality goes. In order to meet or exceed the customer’s request, there must be at least one machinist in the shop that knows how to do that. You can’t just make a program on a CAD/CAM system, load it onto the machine and expect everything to run perfectly. In fact, programming is sometimes one of the easiest part of machining.

The difficult part is making a fixture that properly holds the part, choosing the right tools for the part (size, length, material), as well as speeds and feeds that will be the most efficient (shorter cycle times are good, but if you’re burning through tools every few parts, you’re spending more on tools and down time because you have to stop running the machine and set a new one up; Time = Money). Some characteristics of a well rounded and skilled machinist can be found here.

Lets See Some Numbers!

Currie Engineering
Currie Engineering

So, you want to see some actual dollar amounts for machine shop rates… There’s a few different ranges of numbers, and as a general rule, you get what you pay for. $40-55/hour is considered cheap in the manufacturing industry, and while you may be able to find a local shop that has a rate that low, their work will probably reflect. However, if you need to make parts with wide open tolerances, you can save a lot of money going to a company that is 48 bucks an hour. Manual mills and lathes may be the majority of machines found in a shop like this.

60 to 80 dollars per hour is the average machine shop rate in most parts of the U.S.. Electricity is and overhead costs play an important role in what a shop is charging. However, the most important factor would be quality and type of shop. Prototype and short run parts are expensive due to set-up times. If you need to make a part with tight tolerances, that will greatly narrow the choices down. The shops that are able to make high precision and good looking parts know that, and are able to charge more because other shops can’t compete with their quality.

If you were wondering about the top dollar shops, there are some out there that charge $100/hour and beyond. Why? Along with the above mentioned, the high cost is because they are large shops with multi-million dollar machines that produce a high overhead to run, including well-experienced machinists that often get paid a better wage because of their expertise. It may seem ridiculous if you’re new to the career, but if you add up all of the expenses of machines operating, tools, inspection equipment, coolant and chemicals, electricity, and obviously the machinists/programmers themselves. After adding all those numbers up, they shouldn’t be more than what the company is making per hour, especially if the owner wants to make a profit.

In the end, it really depends on the kind of work that is being done. The higher precision and meticulous that stand strongly behind their quality will charge more, but if you have fussy parts, it is well worth the cost as opposed to rejecting the same part from a lesser shop that can’t meet the tolerances.

CNC Machine Shop – What Is In It?

While every machine shop is different, you’ll see similar set-ups when you walk through them. There will usually be the main area where all of the CNC milling or turning centers are, as well as a section to deburr parts. Sometimes there will be deburring tools/machines next to the machine you’re running if the operator does all of the deburring.

Usually in a different area there will be a stock room with all of the raw materials needed for upcoming jobs. These few rooms or areas make up a CNC Machine Shop, which is usually a large industrial or steel building, as well as a small pole barn or garage, depending on how big the company is.

Stock Room

Round stock, square stock, and tubing are the most common, and they are usually 8 or 12 foot bars in length. There should also be a band saw in this same room so that someone can cut up the right size stock for each job. Most shops have an automatic horizontal band-saws so that they can cut a large quantity of parts in a short period of time with relatively close tolerances.

Machines

Machine Shop
Machine Shop

Depending on what kind of a machine shop you’re in, there’s a lot of milling machines that could be running. While milling and turning centers are the most common, there’s many more machines, as well as different variations of each.

A shop can have vertical or horizontal milling centers, depending on how complex their parts on, and if they’re a job shop or a production shop. Vertical mills are the most common because they’re cheaper and easier to use and set up.

Lathes are pretty similar, but they can be a flat-bed, slant-bed, multi-axis, or have live tooling for special jobs.

Other machines include, but not limited to: Wire EDM, waterjet, press brake, turret punch, CNC laser, as well as miscellaneous deburring machines (tumbler, straightliner, grinders).

Deburring

Like mentioned above, there will be some deburring tools/machines if the company wants to save money by doing all or most of it themselves. Often times there will be a drill press and grinder next to each mill so the operator can do most of the deburring right there in between cycle times.

The higher quality and quantity the parts, the bigger and better the deburring equipment will be. Giant tumblers/vibratory tubs are often used in large production shops for basic deburring. Media blasting is also common for parts if they are to be plated or coating with something. Zinc, chromate, anodizing, hardcoat/powdercoat, and nickel are just a few coatings that are done to machined parts to give them a better look, last longer, and/or function different.

Inspection Room

Clean Inspection Room
Clean Inspection Room

The inspection room should be separate and enclosed from the shop. If parts have close tolerances, there will be expensive inspection equipment, and the room will be temperature controlled so all of the readings are accurate and consistent.

Tools will include: a granite surface plate, height gage, CMM, bore gage, go/no-go gages for specific jobs, optical comparator, profilometer, thread gages, and gage pins. Not every job will have all of these tools, but some will have more.

Depending on how big the shop is, you (the Machinist), may or may not be inspecting your own parts. The more machines and tools you learn how to use, the better off you will be, so try to get in on how to use the equipment if there is an inspector at your shop.

Well, that’s the jist of what a CNC Shop has on the inside of it! Check out my other articles for tips on becoming a CNC Machinist. Stay tuned for more…